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'Just play': Crows putting no pressure on 'fresh recruit'

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There's no real expectations on Brad other than to come out and play
Don Pyke on Brad Crouch

ADELAIDE isn't putting expectations on injury-plagued midfielder Brad Crouch ahead of his first premiership game in 539 days.

Saturday's round one encounter with Hawthorn at Adelaide Oval is just the third time the 25-year-old will play in a season-opener in seven years.

Crouch didn't play in 2015 with stress fractures in his foot, missed the first four games of 2017 with a hamstring injury, and was sidelined all of last season with a groin issue. Since debuting in round two of 2013, he has played just 61 of a possible 139 games.

At his best, Crouch is one of the elite midfielders in the competition with his contested ball work and ability to burst away from stoppages.

You only have to look at his 2017 season – when he averaged 28.1 disposals, 6.8 tackles, 5.8 clearances and 4.2 inside 50s, all career highs – to understand his value to the Crows.

Crouch was on modified training before the Christmas break, but resumed full training in January.

He returned in an under-23s trial against Port Adelaide in February before backing up with strong performances in the JLT Community Series, averaging 30 disposals, 5.5 clearances and 5.5 tackles in the two games.

Crows coach Don Pyke said he was excited to have Crouch back in the side.

"He's missed a year of senior footy so he's had a couple of trial games, but there's no real expectations on Brad other than to come out and play," Pyke said.

"Given the year he had last year, he's just excited and looking forward to just playing.

"I expect he'll bring the normal level of energy he brings and his drive around the contest, and we'll see what the game produces."

 

Crouch will be playing his first game since the 2017 Grand Final against Richmond.

"Even talking to him this morning, he's come a long way," Pyke said.

"Last year was really disappointing for him.

"For him to get through the pre-season, no pain, playing the sort of footy he's capable of playing, it's just exciting for him and it's almost like having another fresh recruit."

The Crows have close to a full list to choose from, with only defender Luke Brown (foot) and winger Paul Seedsman (finger) unavailable.

Seedsman is expected to return for the round two encounter with Sydney next Friday night.

Veteran David Mackay – despite missing the JLT Community Series with a shoulder injury - fills Seedsman's role against the Hawks, while midfielder Hugh Greenwood has been left out to build match conditioning in the SANFL after having an interrupted pre-season with an abdominal tendon injury.

"Hugh wasn't in full training four or five weeks ago, so he's come a long way quickly," Pyke said.

"We're just mindful of the long season and getting him absolutely right.

"We know the quality of the player he is, but he needs one, if not two runs under his belt before he's ready to push and play in the AFL."

The Crows will hand a debut to 19-year-old Tasmanian Chayce Jones, last year's ninth overall draft pick who will play across half-forward and on the wing.

Big things are expected of the Crows this season, but Pyke isn't buying into the hype.

"I feel like we've prepared to win games of footy," Pyke said.

"Our preparation is great, but it doesn't guarantee us anything.

"We start on zero and we have to earn our right to play deeper into the season."

Defender Andy Otten will be held out of Friday afternoon's SANFL trial as an emergency. 

Brad Crouch's ups and downs: a timeline

2011: Second pick in the 2011 mini-draft.

2012: Played for West Adelaide in the SANFL. Suffered a hamstring injury during the season and missed two months.

2013: Debuted in round two against Brisbane. Played 14 games, averaging 24.5 disposals per game and finishing second in NAB AFL Rising Star award. Missed round five with a hamstring injury, returned in round 11. In September, signs two-year contract extension until end of 2016 (Crouch was already contracted for 2014).

2014: Played 11 games, averaging 24.7 disposals. Fractured his leg in round two Showdown against Port Adelaide and missed three months.

2015: Missed the entire season with a foot injury. Fractured his left foot in pre-season game against Port Adelaide in March. Made a comeback in the SANFL in June, but developed stress pain in his foot.

2016: Played 16 games, averaging 23 disposals. Missed three weeks with a hamstring injury, returned to the side before being dropped to the SANFL. In August, signed four-year contract extension until end of 2020.

2017: Played 20 games, averaging 28.1 disposals, 6.8 tackles, 5.8 clearances and 4.2 inside 50s (all career highs). Finished eighth in the Crows' best and fairest. Missed first four rounds with a hamstring injury and round 19 with a fractured cheekbone.

2018: Didn't play a game due to groin soreness and had surgery in June.

2019: Returned to full training after the Christmas break. Missed a week of training in January with a minor foot injury. Averaged 30 disposals in JLT Community Series. Set to play against Hawthorn in round one, his first premiership game in 539 days.